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The Importance of All India Civil Services

Perhaps the most crucial decision of the then national leadership of free India about the strategy of management of the new democratic Republic was to retain the ‘steel frame’ left behind by the British in the form of ICS and IP and establish IAS and IPS as the All India Civil Services to succeed them.

These were envisioned as the specially empowered national instruments to broadly handle development administration and the law & order apolitically – across the national grid – taking into account the federal scheme of things in the Republic.

In no other major country in the world does an equivalent of IAS and IPS exists in the sense that on a merit-based selection at the national level, the entrant is installed in the decision-making ‘leadership’ position of an Under Secretary of Government of India just within three years after the training – Collector and SP in the states represent that status granted at the start of the service career itself.

That there was no conflict between the Centre and the states about these prime services was implied in the practice of the Centre handling the recruitment and training of IAS and IPS officials and then placing them in the hands of the states according to an assessed ‘cadre strength’ with the minimal subsequent role of broadly keeping track of their performance and giving them a sense of central protection against any unfair treatment meted out by the state government wherever necessary.

The Centre has also been helping the reallocation of the cadre of the spouse wherever needed, if both husband and wife are members of All India Civil Services. The allocation of cadre state was made on two grounds – consideration of individual’s preference allowed on the basis of place in the merit list and exercise of Centre’s discretion.

The strong points of these services were the high-level of integrity at personal level, independent decision-making in public interest and fair play in the handling of the subordinate government servants down the line.

The comparative perks and facilities provided to even the young officers – considering the general economic situation of the country – are noticeable enough to promote self-confidence and a sense of pride in the All India Civil Services.

For long years after Independence, many of their members distinguished themselves in both Central and state governments. They served the cause of national integration and also added to the credit of the leadership in power in any part of India – regardless of its party label.

But then there was an inevitable slide reasons for which needed to be examined.

Members of the All India Civil Services retained an inbuilt willingness to serve the national government at appropriate stages of their career and looked forward to that experience to enhance their work profile.

They all carried the desire of holding senior most positions that existed only at the Centre. It was therefore the normal thing for the officers serving in their cadre states to aspire to get the opportunity of being picked up by Delhi under the Central quota, which every state knew it had to honour at any point of time.

This gave them an added reason to perform well. There could be an occasion when the call from the Centre had to be declined by an officer for some valid personal or family reason, but it was otherwise a mutually agreeable arrangement that operated without impediment.

Slowly but steadily. politicisation of bureaucracy and police by the ruling parties of the states created the tendency among officers of holding on to their position in the state for vested interests.

The state governments, for political reasons, also started giving weightage to state service officers directly recruited by them, inducing the IAS and IPS to become more and more ‘compliant’. All of this resulted in the unhealthy trend of All India Civil Services officers looking weaker as they moved up the ladder – the Chief Secretary and DGP not minding even the transfers and postings of officers done by the political masters at their back.

The Centre was justified in feeling concerned about the heads of administration and the police in the states not measuring up to their apolitical Constitutional responsibilities. The Central oversight on the two premier All India Civil Services had to be maintained and legitimate procedural correctives made in the larger national interest to ensure competent administration of the democratic state.

An unreasoned refusal of the state to release an officer selected by the Centre for deputation with the Government of India – out of political recalcitrance – can adversely affect the great tradition of All India Civil Services contributing to democratic governance through their apolitical public-service oriented work.

If the rule about the Centre’s decision prevailing over the state’s desire in the matter of central deputation of an officer acted somewhere as a deterrent against wilful neglect of Constitutional obligations at the top levels of state and police administration, this is welcome.

A few long-range steps come to mind for improving matters relating to these Services. First, there should be greater transparency about the appointment of Chief Secretary and DGP of the state. There should be a healthy Central input in the process by way of UPSC in consultation with the state governments, drawing a panel of three most eligible officers of the cadre – on the basis of seniority and performance – to leave it to the state government to make the choice.

Sometime back, the Supreme Court commended this approach when striking down the practice of appointing an ‘officiating’ DGP. There is no reason why this could not be followed in the matter of selecting the Chief Secretary as well.

Secondly, for senior positions at the Centre requiring specialised work background, officers available in various states could be given the opportunity of conveying their interest for being considered – this has perhaps been done to an extent already.

Third, it would be useful for Cabinet Secretary and Home Secretary – Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB) to hold a biennial conference of Chief Secretaries and DGPs purely for discussing the All India Civil Services – related issues of performance, facilities and working conditions. For DGPs, this can be a segment of the annual conference convened by the DIB.

Fourth, in keeping with the lofty objective of providing a uniform standard of efficient administration throughout the country after Independence – that had inspired the creation of the All India Civil Services – it is in the fitness of things that during the brief spell of joint training for the new probationers organised by the LBS National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie every year, education on strategic matters and national security had been introduced recently.

This will help cooperation among the All India Civil Services officers in their later years on issues of national interests and foster in them the spirit of serving anywhere in the country. The idea should be replicated in the joint courses held for Civil Services in latter stages, as well.

Last but not the least, there has to be a new emphasis on a further build-up of IAS and IPS as the principal instruments of governance through the intake of best available human material, special facilities of housing, transport and allowances provided in the early years of the career and introduction of the practise of a central deputation after certain periods of work in the cadre states, as far as possible.

The Centre heavily depends on these Civil Services and the states should be happy if their officers are selected for such deputation at the Centre. It seems there is a case for increasing the annual intake of officers for these services and meeting the demands of the states in this regard.

The states should not hold on to officers needed by the Centre as a show of political assertion – they are always free to take up individual cases where they find it necessary to retain an officer for a longer time for some special requirement of the state. Nothing should be done to further politicise the handling of the All India Civil Services.

(With the inputs of IANS).

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